Present Suffering and Eternal Glory

In the last post, we asked the question, “Can we speak like Paul in 2 Cor. 4:17-1?” On an even deeper level, what moves a man to speak the way Paul did? This is what Paul wrote:

17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

What is it that enabled Paul to respond to affliction in this manner? In the context of this passage, Paul is surrounded by many trials (read 4:8-11). Yet, he describes them as “light momentary affliction” which “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.” Lloyd-Jones puts the question like this; “What was it that made him to write in this way and manner? What is the explanation of his ability to face all these things?”

According to Lloyd-Jones, Paul could speak this way simply because he was a Christian and not because he was a great apostle. But what does that mean? It means that any Christian (a person who has a totally new view of the whole of life because of his or her faith in the Lord Jesus) can speak this way. Before Paul was a Christian, he could not speak like this in the face of trials. In Christ, his life and worldview changed. He became a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Now he sees everything in light of Christ. Those in Christ do not get stuck with the little things of life, no matter how hard, but they strive to see them from the whole picture of the Christian life. Faith looks not only at the individual situation at hand but at the whole picture. That is what Paul did and why he could say what he said. He did not only look at the afflictions, but he saw that they were momentary, and that there is an eternal glory for believers. This affected how he responded to his present affliction.

As a Christian, Paul, through the lense of the gospel, saw that life is for a moment. Unseen things are eternal while the things that we see are temporary (4:18). Though life is long (100 years at most), those with a Christian worldview know that it is momentary. Paul also had a view of affliction that is gospel centered. He listed all his trials and then called them light. Does that make sense? There is no doubt that what he listed is enough to send one into depression and to despair of life, yet Paul calls them “light.” As Lloyd-Jones points out, we are wrong to use the word “light” focusing on the afflictions themselves. There is no denying that they are heavy things that he described. In what sense, then, are they light? Lloyd-Jones answers, “What he says is that they become light when contrasted with something else.”  Look again at verse 17. Lloyd-Jones explains that it is like Paul puts all his toils, troubles, problems, and tribulations on one pan of a scale and the weight is heavy. Then, he puts on the other pan of the scale “an eternal weight of glory,” which overbalances the weight of all his afflictions. No matter the weight of his momentary afflictions, when compared to the future glory they become as light as a feather.

So, Paul could respond to affliction the way he did because he had a glimpse of future glory. He understood that what awaits him in the future cannot be compared to anything he has suffered. He understood that because of what the gospel has done in his life.

Christians can speak like Paul when they have gotten a glimpse of glory through the gospel, and have a new view of life. They look not on what is seen  but on what is unseen. What is seen is temporary (including afflictions) but what is unseen is eternal and far better. Paul says, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Paul’s secret according to Lloyd-Jones is that, “He sees into the glory by faith.” That too can be our secret in the face of adversity, learning to see into our future glory by faith. Like Paul, we can always weigh our afflictions against our “eternal weight of glory” and we will always find that glory outweighs affliction.

What are some practical ways that we can face present sufferings in light of our future glory? (See next week’s post).

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